The playoffs are creeping closer and the Sixers, without Joel Embiid for the past three games, have not been playing their best basketball.
With four games left in the regular season, here are three questions to consider:
Can their secondary actions be effective?
Opponents in the playoffs will be familiar with the Sixers’ favorite offensive looks. Though the Sixers can add a wrinkle here or there, a lot of their postseason success will depend on whether they can still get good shots after teams take away their primary options.
There have been a few promising signs recently that the Sixers are improvising well when the first option isn’t available and honing their sense for which secondary options tend to be open.
Below, the Sixers run a familiar action with JJ Redick curling around Ben Simmons’ screen at the wing before taking Joel Embiid’s handoff. Tobias Harris anticipates the defense leaning in Redick’s direction and makes a nice cut behind DeMarre Carroll. Both Redick and Harris are attuned to the likelihood that the defense will throw most of their attention toward Redick.
A similar action in Dallas, with Simmons and Jonah Bolden setting staggered screens for James Ennis on the right wing, flowed into a layup for Redick. Notice how Redick starts to work around Harris’ down screen on the opposite side of the floor, stops, and curls toward the rim, at which point Ennis finds him.
Jimmy Butler has shown a sharp sense for when to cut back door, a skill that should come in handy against aggressive playoff defenses. On this after-timeout action in Minnesota, Butler gives the ball to Boban Marjanovic at the right elbow and then comes to the left elbow to set a cross screen for Harris. Seeing the Timberwolves are denying Harris the ball, Butler slips to the hoop and draws a foul on Keita Bates-Diop.
Though much of the Sixers’ effective secondary actions are improvised, it doesn’t hurt to keep in mind which secondary looks are typically open and who's best suited to take advantage of those openings.
Harris and McConnell set staggered ball screens for Butler on the play below vs. Brooklyn, then McConnell screens for Harris off the ball as Butler drives right. Here, Harris decides to go back door instead of looping up off the screen, which causes Rondae Hollis-Jefferson to take a step into the paint.
No disrespect to Marjanovic, but he’s not the man you want open for a corner three. If the Sixers notice defenses consistently help off the man in the strong side corner on that action, perhaps they’ll consider putting a better outside shooter in that spot.
What role should Boban play?
Speaking of Marjanovic, the question of what his role should be in the playoffs remains unresolved.
We’ve already touched on his deficiencies defending pick-and-rolls. The best he’ll be able to do is drop deep into the paint to deter a drive from the ball handler. He just doesn’t have the foot speed to stop an opposing big man from taking open jump shots.
And that issue doesn’t apply exclusively to pick-and-roll situations.
The Sixers have to weigh whether Marjanovic’s defensive limitations can be offset by his offensive abilities and the unique, minimal-jump dunks he’ll give you.
Brett Brown might be able to identify one or two matchups against less agile centers that won’t expose Marjanovic, but it’s still unclear exactly how much — if at all — the Sixers can rely on Marjanovic in the playoffs.
Should Harris play more at the point?
One strength Marjanovic does have that might, in part, persuade the Sixers to give him postseason minutes, is his pick-and-roll chemistry with Harris.
If Marjanovic gets time in the playoffs, it might not be a bad idea to pair him with Harris at the point. It was one of the few things that worked for the Sixers Monday night in Dallas.
Marjanovic wiped out Harris’ man on several plays, freeing him for open jumpers.
When the Mavs adjusted by blitzing the pick-and-roll, Harris executed a quick give-and-go with Mike Scott.
A potential downside to using Harris more at the point is he doesn’t have great feel as a passer. He handles the ball well and generally makes smart decisions — it’s just that his instincts and touch aren’t great.
But in the playoffs, running pick-and-roll after pick-and-roll with Marjanovic, Harris might not need to make many difficult passes. The Sixers could encourage him to aggressively seek out his own shot for a few minutes at a time while Embiid takes a breather.
One of the best arguments for Marjanovic having a significant role in the postseason might very well be the on-court partnership he has with his good friend.
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